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October 14, 2005After a disappointing start to the season and two straight road losses, Utah (3-3, 1-2 in MWC play) returns to Salt Lake to take on San Diego State (2-4, 1-2). Another historically close series, Utah has a slim 12-11-1 lead all time, but the Aztecs last win in Salt Lake came nearly 14 years ago on October 26th, 1991. Utah is looking to rebound from two difficult road losses, and should be aided by a Homecoming crowd anxious to see the Utes at home, their only home game of the month.
Last week, Utah lost 21-17 to Colorado State after the Utes had 1st and Goal from the 4 yard line and failed to score, the last three attempts coming from inside the CSU 1. The defense surrendered 18 4th quarter points as the CSU running game broke free after being held in check for most of the game. Actually, Utah had two chances inside the CSU 10 in the 4th quarter and managed only a field goal.
San Diego State is coming off of a disappointing 13-10 road loss as well. Playing in Las Vegas and facing 30 mile-per-hour winds, the Aztecs managed only 140 yards and 10 points, while giving up 4 turnovers. Defenses dominated the entire game, as both offenses struggled to move the ball against the wind. UNLV kicker Sergio Aguayo nailed a 52 yard field goal with 7 seconds left to win the game for the Rebels. Adding injury to insult, sophomore tailback and Doak Walker Award candidate Lynell Hamilton left the game in the second quarter due to a hamstring injury. Hamilton is expected to play against the Utes.
San Diego State - What to Watch:
? Running Game: How well will Lynell Hamilton play? Sometimes hamstring injuries can take a while to heal. If he's not 100%, how effective can he be? Depth is decent with true freshman Brandon Bornes (he had a 41 yard run against Utah last year) and senior Michael Franklin, but neither are the quality of back that a healthy Hamilton is. Franklin is small (5-foot-7, 180 pounds), but fast and quick while Bornes is big (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and strong, with good speed.
? Receivers: The Aztecs have probably the best receiver duo in the conference in Jeff Webb and Robert Ortiz. Both are big, strong receivers who run great routes and block well downfield. Webb is the better of the two, a terrific all-around receiver and athlete with a work ethic to match. Splitting time in San Diego State's 3 WR sets are sophomores Chazeray Schilens and Brent Swain. Swain has good speed, and is averaging over 19 yards per catch with a long of 80, the Aztecs longest offensive play of the year.
? Offensive Line: For a group that returns all 5 starters, including 3 seniors, they have not played particularly well this season. The line has given up 19 sacks in 6 games, including 4 to UCLA, 6 to San Jose State and 5 to UNLV, all nearly double their season averages. Added to their struggles to protect the QB is the fact that the Aztecs are 65th in rushing yards per game with 140.3 and 84th in yards per carry at 3.4. Outside of Ohio State and UNLV, they have not faced a team with a run defense ranked higher than 70th.
? Special Teams: San Diego State's kicking game is fantastic, as punter Michael Hughes is averaging over 45 yards per punt, with 8 over 50 yards (including 3 with a long of 78 last week against UNLV) and 9 downed inside the 20. Kicker Garrett Palmer is 6-7 on field goals this season with a long of 47 yard.
Utah - What to Watch:
? Offensive Line - A group that has played well at times, poorly at others. The line seems to lack the dominating, physical attitude of last season. Still, they have played well, just not what most observers expected coming into the season. Utah is averaging 4.1 yards per carry while giving up 13 sacks. The sack number could be lower, but the line is doing a decent job of opening holes for the running game. Don't let the CSU's goal line stand fool you, this is still a good line. They should be able to win the battle up front in the running game, but could have a hard time containing SDSU's pass rushing ends.
? Cornerbacks - After being benched last week in favor of true freshman Brice McCain, Ryan Smith played well enough to have pulled even with McCain on the depth chart. Eugene Oates is solid at the other corner. Who starts and who "sits" well mean very little as all three will see plenty of playing time with the Aztecs using 3-4 wide receiver sets most of the time.
? Defensive Line - Injuries to a few expected contributors before the season started has really hurt the defensive line, as they are down from a 9 man rotation to a 6 or 7 man rotation. That could explain some of the 4th quarter problems the defense has had in stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. The line has to do a good job against the Aztecs and keep O'Connell from making plays with his feet.
? Fourth Quarter execution - Utah has really struggled in the fourth quarter this season. The offense has only scored 16 fourth quarter points all season, and is converting an atrocious 24% of their 3rd downs (6-25) after converting a respectable 43.4% through the first 3 quarters. Utah has actually won the 4th quarter time of possession battle, holding onto the ball for an average of 8 minutes and 12 seconds. The defense has struggled as well, allowing opponents to convert 40% of their 3rd downs (10-25) while giving up 53 points. Basically, the offense needs to do a better job of executing and sustaining drives that lead to points. That will also help the defense out, but the defense has blown a lot of assignments. The team has improved as the season has progressed, but still has lots of room to improve. They will, but need to step it up this week.
Who to watch:
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